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Frontier Community Services has 25-year history of assisting the disabled

Able to help

Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2006

 

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  Mike Shattler of Frontier Community Services, right, assists Chuck Davis at Davis’ home in Soldotna. Shattler is Davis┐ house manager. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Chuck Davis loads a washing machine while working in the vocational department at Frontier Community Services last week.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

More than 25 years ago a group of parents in Kenai and Soldotna became distraught when their sons and daughters graduated from high school. The parents were concerned their disabled children would spend the majority of their time idle at home and live the remainder of their lives isolated from the community, now that they had completed school.

But today Chuck Davis, the son of one those concerned parents, leads a life that is anything but isolated or idle. Wednesday afternoon, for example, Davis could be found busily pulling orange towels from a yellow laundry basket and depositing them into a dryer, while chatting with his co-workers and support staff. More than 10 people buzzed in and out of the room Davis worked in and there was never a quiet moment.

In the same room at least two other disabled people paused to chat with the reporter and photographer who had come to visit.

Beverly Savage, who had been busy sweeping, quickly walked up to the newcomers and introduced herself.

“Look, you’re writing everything down. That’s fine with me,” she said.

Davis appeared equally thrilled to chat, but continued to work diligently.

 

Chuck Davis watches television in his home in Soldotna. His mother helped form Frontier Community Services 25 years ago to provide jobs and personal services for her son and others with disabilities.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Davis has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair, but his disability has failed to confine his activities. During the week, Davis provides cleaning services for businesses in Soldotna and Kenai and collects donations for charity. During his time off, Davis enjoys going to plays, participating in the Special Olympics and traveling to Hollywood to sit in the audience of the “The Price Is Right,” a game show he has visited five times.

Support staff accompany Davis 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but he lives in his own home, where he likes to spend evenings watching his favorite TV shows, including “I Love Lucy” and “Dallas.”

If it were not for the efforts of concerned parents such as Davis’ mother, however, the lives of many disabled people on the Kenai Peninsula might be very different.

Twenty-five years ago Davis’ mother, Joan Davis, with the help of other concerned parents, created Frontier Community Services. Frontier is a nonprofit agency began as a grassroots operation that connected disabled people with job opportunities so they would not be left in their homes with nothing to do.

Now, however, Frontier has grown to include assisted living services, Early Intervention-Infant Learning Program services and other services that enhance the lives of more than 350 disabled people, most of whom live on the peninsula.

 

Mike Shattler of Frontier Community Services uses a lifting devise to help Chuck Davis into a chair at Davis’ home in Soldotna. Shattler is Davis house manager.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

“Frontier today literally covers people from birth to death,” said Ken Duff, executive director of Frontier Community Services.

Frontier also has grown to become the peninsula’s seventh-largest employer, Duff said. Frontier employs approximately 200 full-time employees and 200 part-time employees.

This month marks Frontier’s 25th anniversary, and Davis expressed the pride he felt over his mother’s accomplishments as he and Duff talked about the history of the company.

 

Mike Shattler of Frontier Community Services, right, assists Chuck Davis at Davis’ home in Soldotna. Shattler is Davis house manager.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Davis explained that before Frontier, there were no job opportunities for him in Soldotna or Kenai. He probed his memory to list the parents and disabled people who where involved with the company in its early days.

“You’re going back 25 years so you’ve got me,” Duff said when Davis asked if Duff could think of any of names he had missed.

Davis, who has been involved with Frontier since its inception, cares intimately about the company’s future and has recently made an effort to increase his involvement there.

“I’m trying to be on the board of directors,” Davis said.

 

Ken Duff is the executive director at Frontier Community Services.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

When Davis submitted an application to fill a seat on the board of directors, he said he wants to join because he wants to make a difference, said Mike Shattler, a support staff member who has been working with Davis for more than two years.

Shattler is one of many people hired by Frontier to help disabled people with everyday tasks and needs, such as cooking, cleaning and transportation.

But no less important is the support staff’s responsibility to help disabled people help themselves, Duff said.

“We foster as much independence as we can,” Duff said.

Helping Davis interact in the community and develop skills that allow him to live more independently gives Shattler great personal gratification, he said.

“I enjoy working with Chuck so much. I just want to make sure he gets the things he wants,” Shattler said. “He’s a giving and caring person. And he loves being social. He’ll say ‘hi’ to anyone and everyone.”

Over the two years he has worked with Davis, their relationship has strengthened, he said.

“It’s supposed to be professional, but I consider him a good friend,” he said.

Throughout the United States, disabled people have considerably more opportunities to develop meaningful relationships and live interactively with the community than their predecessors. Today in Alaska, for example, most disabled people live with their families, in their own homes, or share homes with one or more roommates. None live in institutions. But until there was a nationwide push for deinstitutionalization in the late 1980s and early 1990s, most disabled people lived out their adult lives in institutions.

“Originally if you had a disability you were sent to Washington state to be institutionalized,” Duff said. “If they weren’t institutionalized they were locked up.”

Eventually, an institution also was built in Valdez — Harbor View. Harbor View housed disabled people until it closed in the early 1990s when rules surrounding Medicaid chan-ged, giving parents and guardians more flexibility in providing for disabled people.

“It used to be the only way you could access Medicaid dollars for developmentally disabled people was to institutionalize them,” Duff said.

In the early 1990s, however, a program was introduced to waive that re-quirement, allowing more disabled people to live outside of the institutional system.

Duff said the migration of disabled people out of institutions and back into their communities is a benefit to everyone.

“It’s two things. It’s fiscally more responsible and socially more responsible,” Duff said. “Consistently, what you see is institutional care is more expensive.”



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